Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Milky Way Dark Matter Object Detected For First Time

07.12.2001


Astronomers from the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with an international team of researchers, have made the first direct detection and measurement of the properties of a dark matter object in the Milky Way.
This observation of a gravitational microlensing event -- a temporary increase in the brightness of a background star during the time it takes dark matter to pass in front of it -- is reported in today’s issue of Nature.

"By measuring its mass, distance and velocity, we have established the first complete picture of a massive compact halo object, or MACHO," said co-author Charles R. Alcock, professor of physics and astronomy at Penn. "This demonstrates that microlensing light data, high-resolution images and spectroscopy should allow astronomers to characterize a significant fraction of the Milky Way’s dark matter."




Alcock, who serves as lead researcher on the international MACHO Project, made much of his contribution to the work in his previous capacity as director of the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The team used the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope to take images and make spectra of a MACHO microlens, making it possible to determine the mass of the MACHO and its distance from the Earth. In this case, the MACHO is a star 600 light-years away with a mass 5 to 10 percent the mass of the sun, making it a dwarf star and a faint member of the disk population of stars in the Milky Way.

"For the first time, we’ve been able to determine the detailed characteristics of a lens," said Cailin Nelson, a University of California at Berkeley graduate student working at Livermore with the MACHO team. "This shows that we will be able to determine the makeup of MACHOs and their role in the universe. We expected about one of our microlenses to belong to the normal, stellar component of the Milky Way, and it just happened that this was the one."

"In order to observe and then follow up more unusual microlensing events such as this one, we need to find many more events," said Kem Cook, the Livermore team leader. "We are just beginning a new five-year microlensing survey which should yield the number of events we need to identify the nature of the main microlensing population."

For the past 10 years, active search projects have looked for possible candidate objects for dark matter. One of the many possibilities is that the dark matter consists of atomic-sized weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. Another possibility is that the dark matter consists of MACHOs, such as dead or dying stars (neutron stars and cool dwarf stars), objects similar to stars but too small to "light up" (planets and brown dwarfs), or black holes of various sizes.

Previous research has shown that if some of the dark matter were in the form of MACHOs, its presence could be detected by the gravitational influence MACHOs would have on light from distant stars. If a MACHO passes in front of a star in a nearby galaxy, such as the Large Magellanic Cloud, then the gravitational field of the MACHO will bend the light and focus it into telescopes.

The MACHO acts like a gravitational lens and causes the brightness of the background star to increase for the short time it takes for the MACHO to pass by. Depending on the mass of the MACHO and its distance from the Earth, this period of brightening can last days, weeks or months.

Gravitational lensing can also be observed on much larger scales around large mass concentrations, such as clusters of galaxies. Since MACHOs are much smaller, they are referred to as "microlenses."

The form and duration of the brightening caused by the MACHO can be predicted by theory and searched for as a clear signal of the presence of MACHO dark matter. But in a normal event, the brightening alone is not enough information to yield the distance to the MACHO, its mass and velocity as independent quantities. It is only for unusual events, such as this one, that more can be learned.

In 1991, a team of astronomers from Livermore, the Center for Particle Astrophysics at the University of California at Berkeley and the Australian National University joined forces to form the MACHO Project. This team used a dedicated telescope at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia to monitor the brightness of more than 10 million stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud over a period of eight years.

The team discovered its first gravitational lensing event in 1993 and has now published approximately 20 examples of microlenses toward the Magellanic Clouds. These results demonstrate that there is a population of MACHO objects surrounding the Milky Way galaxy that could comprise as much as 50 percent of the total dark matter content.

The MACHO collaboration is made up of Alcock and Matthew J. Lehner at Penn; K.H. Cook, A.J. Drake, S.C. Keller, S.L. Marshall, C.A. Nelson and P. Popowski of Livermore; R.A. Allsman of the Australian National Supercomputing Facility; D.R. Alves of the Space Telescope Science Institute; T.S. Axelrod, K.C. Freeman and B.A. Peterson of the Mount Stromlo Observatory; A.C. Becker of Bell Labs; D.P. Bennett of the University of Notre Dame; M. Geha of the University of California at Santa Cruz; K. Griest and T. Vandehei of the University of California at San Diego; D. Minniti of Universidad Catolica; M.R. Pratt, C.W. Stubbs and A.B. Tomaney of the University of Washington; P.J. Quinn of the European Southern Observatory; W. Sutherland of the University of Oxford; and D. Welch of McMaster University.

Steve Bradt | International Science News

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Heating quantum matter: A novel view on topology
22.08.2017 | Université libre de Bruxelles

nachricht Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form
18.08.2017 | Cornell University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Cholesterol-lowering drugs may fight infectious disease

22.08.2017 | Health and Medicine

Meter-sized single-crystal graphene growth becomes possible

22.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

Repairing damaged hearts with self-healing heart cells

22.08.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>